We all know that having high levels of lipids or fats in the blood is not healthy. They can increase the risk of some fatal heart event, such as a stroke or a heart attack. However, high cholesterol levels are becoming increasingly common. So, it is quite useful for us to be informed about what exactly cholesterol is and its effects on our body. By learning more about these harmful substances we can learn about how to prevent them and what we can do to cope with such conditions.
Having high levels of lipids in your blood puts you at an increased risk of Lipid Disorder. Having lipid disorder means that you will have either high levels of LDL (Low density lipoproteins) cholesterol in your blood or high levels of fats known as triglycerides. Sometimes you may have a high level of both LDLs and triglycerides in your blood system.
Cholesterol & Its Types
Cholesterol is a protein, or specifically, a fat protein that is made by the liver and is waxy in texture. There are two types of cholesterol, one is known as “bad cholesterol” and the other is referred to as “good cholesterol.” It is obvious from their names that while some type of cholesterol may be harmful for your body, it is not true for all types of cholesterols. The good cholesterol is actually quite important for vitamin storage, hormone production, proper brain functioning and having a healthy cell membrane.
The Bad Cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoproteins) is known as “bad cholesterol.” This cholesterol type is referred to as such because they allow excess of cholesterol to build up in the blood. Too much of such “bad cholesterol” or LDL cholesterol can put you at an increased risk of heart diseases. These LDLs (low density lipoproteins) are absorbed in the body through cholesterol rich foods like dairy products and red meats. They combine with other types of fat in the body and cause blockages in your blood vessels.
The Good Cholesterol: Not all types of cholesterol are bad, some types such as high density lipoproteins (HDL) are referred to as “good cholesterol,” because they have a sort of protective action towards you heart. They transfer cholesterol back to the liver where this cholesterol can be eliminated from the body. Thus, your doctors often prefer high levels of HDL in the blood system.
What are Triglycerides?: Triglycerides are a type of fat, but are different from cholesterol. Lower levels of triglycerides in the blood system are preferred as they too like LDL are associated with an increased risk of heart diseases. While triglycerides are useful for some cell functions, having high levels of triglycerides in the blood system is not ideal. They are the fats that are mostly found in the food that we eat, but our body also produces triglycerides when converting excess calories into fat.
What Are The Causes Of High Blood Cholesterol & Triglycerides?
There are several factors that are responsible for you having high levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood; some of them are as follows:
The Food We Consume: The most evident cause is the type of food that we consume. Foods have different kinds of fats; some may be healthy while some may not be. Some types of fats found in food are:
- Saturated Fats: Although some plant-based products, such as coconut and palm oil, contain saturated fats, it is mostly found in animal-based products such as milk, butter, cheese and steak. Saturated fats are responsible for increasing the amount of LDL (low density lipoproteins) in your blood.
- Trans-Fats: Also known as trans-fatty acids are considered to be more harmful than saturated fats as they not only increase your LDL (low density lipoproteins) levels, but can also decrease your HDL (high density lipoproteins) levels. It is found naturally in some animal-based products, as well as products that have been processed and gone through a process called hydrogenation.
- Medical Conditions: Any type of pre-existing health condition may also result in high levels of blood cholesterol or triglycerides. Some medical conditions that may affect your blood cholesterol levels are kidney disease, Cushing’s syndrome, diabetes, hypothyroidism, metabolic syndrome and PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Medications: Some types of medications, such as diuretics may cause you to have high levels of cholesterol in your blood.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of exercise is another factor that may be responsible for high levels of blood cholesterol. Exercising is known to increase the levels of HDL (high density lipoproteins) in your blood while a lack of it is known to increase the levels of LDL (low density lipoproteins).
- Smoking: Smoking can cause plaque to get built-up in your arteries and cause an increase in your blood cholesterol levels.
- Hereditary: If you have a genetic predisposition towards having high levels of blood cholesterol, then you can be at increase risk for hyperlipidemia, as some people in your family also suffer from it. Familial hyperlipidemia is one such type of a genetic cause which results due to the passing down of a mutated gene which causes the LDL (low density lipoproteins) receptors to be missing or malfunction and result in LDL (low density lipoproteins) to accumulate in the blood in fatal amounts.
What Are The Symptoms Of High Levels Of Blood Cholesterol And Triglycerides?
An increased level of blood cholesterol is considered to be harmful as they cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries or blood vessels. This narrows down the opening of the arteries as well as the blood vessels, and requires the heart to work harder to pump blood at a higher pressure to enable it to circulate the body. Of course, this overworking of the heart is not considered healthy and puts you at risk for heart disease. Hyperlipidemia is usually detected through blood tests, either during a routine check-up or following some type of heart event like a stroke or a heart attack. In familial hyperlipidemia, sometimes, individuals may notice some type of yellow coloured fatty growths around their joints or eyes.
What Are Some Preventive Measures Against High Levels Of Blood Cholesterol And Triglycerides?
A few ways to combat or prevent the increase in levels of blood cholesterol and triglycerides are:
- Consuming plenty of vegetables, a good amount of fibre whole grains and fruits can have beneficial effects on the high cholesterol levels.
- No more than 6% of your daily calorie intake should come from saturated fats.
- Transfats or trans-fatty acids should be avoided as much as possible and also avoid consuming processed foods.
- Exercising at least four times a week for 30 minutes.
- Eating fat-free dairy products.
- Consuming lean meat in moderate proportions and eating skinless poultry that contains no amount of fat.
- Avoid fried food and instead opt for either grilled or roasted food preparations.
- Weight is an important factor in hyperlipidemia, losing weight can help reduce levels of LDLs (low density lipoproteins) and triglycerides.
- Smoking habits of an individual contribute to many different health risks, but most importantly they also increase the risk of heart diseases.
What Are The Treatment Options Available For Hyperlipidemia?
While having high levels of blood cholesterol are considered harmful and unhealthy, treatment options can help you combat this issue. Hyperlipidemia is a common problem that can lead to some serious heart diseases, but is easily prevented or treated. A lot of different options are available to treat hyperlipidemia, such as lifestyle changes, supplements and medications.
Lifestyle changes include daily exercise accompanied with a healthy diet that is rich in fibres, fruits and vegetables. These changes, as mentioned above, can also help prevent high levels of blood cholesterol.
Supplements include Omega-3 fatty acids. These are available as over the counter drugs, and are frequently used to lower the levels of LDLs (low density lipoproteins) and triglycerides. They are found to be naturally occurring in certain types of fish that are fatty like salmon. Plant based products, such as olive and canola oil, are also known to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid is a naturally occurring polyunsaturated fat.
Niacin supplements are also available as either over-the-counter drug or can be bought with a prescription from a medical professional. They help increase the level of HDL (high level lipoproteins) in the body. Niacin supplements are used to treat the increased levels of plasma lipids.
Medications prescribed by medical professionals are another way to combat high blood cholesterol levels. There are several different types of medications that one can take to help with hyperlipidemia, however, your doctor or physician will first take into account several factors such as your lipid profile and the risks of the medication, before prescribing you any medicinal aid. Some medications that are prescribed to patients are discussed below.
Cholesterol absorption inhibitors lower the level of cholesterol in the blood by limiting or lowering the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed by the body from the food we consume.
Bile acid sequestrants help by trapping substances known as bile resins that contain cholesterol and prevent them from being absorbed by the small intestine. Bile acid aids in the digestion of food and are produced from cholesterol. This medication binds bile resins to the small intestines and is carried out of the body. To make up for the lack of bile acid, more cholesterol is converted into bile acid, which too is carried out of the body; thus, reducing the levels of cholesterol levels in the blood.
Fibrates help lower the levels of triglycerides in your blood.
Hypolipidemic drugs or lipid-lowering agents have gained much popularity, because they can treat high levels of cholesterol in the blood. A common medication prescribed to treat hyperlipidemia is a hypolipidemic drug known as statins.
Statins not only absorb the cholesterol that is already present in the blood, but it also blocks or prevents the cells of the liver from creating more amounts of cholesterol. They are often used in combination with cholesterol absorption inhibitors. Some common types of statins prescribed are fluvastatin, simvastatin, atorvastatin, rosuvastatin and pravastatin. This medication is generally considered to be safe for use; however, its side effects are muscle pain and fatigue which can be quite excruciating.
What are Hypolipidemics Drugs?
First, let us talk about hypolipidemic drugs. Hypolipidemics drugs are also referred to as ‘lipid-lowering agents’. Hypolipidemics are used for lowering the level of lipids-protein complexes and lipids present in the blood. Some types of lipids, such as low density lipoproteins and very low density lipoproteins (LDL and VLDL), have been linked to the increased risks of certain cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, heart attack and coronary artery diseases.
High levels of lipids in the blood system are considered harmful and unhealthy, as they put you at the increased risk of several different types of fatal heart diseases. Hence, hypolipidemic drugs have gained a lot of popularity due to their lipid lowering abilities and usefulness in combating high cholesterol levels. There are several different types of hypolipidemic drugs that are available which help treat high blood cholesterol levels. Some hypolipidemic drugs are statin, niacin or nicotinic acid, fibrates, and bile acid sequestrants. Hypolipidemic drugs are prescribed when there seems to be a dangerous increase in your level of blood cholesterol, by a medical professional, depending on your level of blood cholesterol and your medical history.
Hypolipidemic drugs have proved to be quite effective with regular use and they not only combat high levels of cholesterol in the blood, but also help in decreasing the risk of atherosclerosis. Hypolipidemic drugs or lipid-lowering agents are used to prevent stroke, peripheral vascular diseases, ischemic stroke and heart attacks. Hence, it is often used to treat lipid disorder or hyperlipidemia by medical professionals.
In conclusion, it is important to watch your diet and follow a good exercise plan to combat your cholesterol levels. Strictly adhere to you doctors advise and take your medication regularly. High levels of cholesterol puts you at the risk of several fatal heart diseases, however, with simple lifestyle changes and medication this condition can easily be managed.
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). High cholesterol. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/symptoms-causes/syc-20350800
- American Heart Association. (2021). About Cholesterol. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol
- American Heart Association. (2021). Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia). Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia
- Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Hyperlipidemia. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/13242-hyperlipidemia-high-cholesterol
- MedlinePlus. (2021). Hyperlipidemia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/hyperlipidemia.html
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2021). High Blood Cholesterol: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Research. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/high-blood-cholesterol
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